By: Marie Huey

Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases the great work happening in high-quality early learning settings across Minnesota. The first installment features Aldrich Memorial Nursery School and its director, Kevin Ewing.

Director Kevin Ewing brings a unique perspective to his position as Director of Aldrich Memorial Nursery School in Rochester, Minnesota. In past roles as both a teacher and principal for Rochester Public Schools, he saw the importance of providing children with a good social and educational foundation to prepare them for success at school. Through this lens, Ewing operates Aldrich, a non-profit preschool serving children ages two to five. It started in 1944 as a program connected with the Mayo Clinic in a downtown building near the hospital, but it now operates independently.

BikesBecause of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester’s population comes from many different countries, and some families are only in the city for a temporary stay.  Aldrich recognizes the differing individual needs of children. Much of the activity time is self-selected by the children. They are also the only pre-k in the area that accepts two year olds who aren’t yet potty-trained. Ewing says they are guided by the knowledge that not all children learn letters at the same time, and not all children are potty-trained at the same time. They are able to nurture the individual development of children at their school.

Ewing notes that the learning of two year olds looks different from that of the five year olds. At two, Aldrich teachers focus more on developing social skills and encouraging a love of learning. For children over three, the emphasis is more on learning activities. However, you won’t find flashcards or pencil and paper instruction at the center. Children learn through their interactions with teachers, literature, and play.

Play is the most important work the children do. It helps them learn cause and effect and problem solving. Ewing says that children at Aldrich spend about one hour of their 2 ½ hour day outside. He used to call the structure in their yard a playground, but now he refers to it as the “outdoor classroom,” emphasizing that children are learning all the time through play outside. This experiential learning Outdoor Classroomis intentional and carried out by the dedicated and knowledgeable staff.

Ewing maintains contact and partnership with the schools as well as other community organizations. He also serves on the Early Childhood Subcommittee of the Destination Medical Center planning for Mayo Clinic. Fostering these partnerships and staying connected to the community are important parts of his work and help Aldrich to be a responsive and successful place.